Short-form content isn’t new, but it’s gaining popularity among creators, production companies and viewers. And it’s just getting started.
“Just because it’s short in length doesn’t mean it has any less effect on an audience or requires any less skill to make,” says Matthew Henick, head of development at BuzzFeed, which upped production of original short-form series from two or three to about 30.
He’s noticing TV-like consumption behavior, too, as each episode of “Worth It” garners tens of millions of views. “People are seeking it out and showing their affinity for it just as they would a TV show,” Henick says. He notes this is BuzzFeed’s first year submitting in short form: “Try Guys” for short form variety series, and “Worth It” for short form non-fiction/reality.
Condé Nast Entertainment began investing in digital and short form five years ago and now has 18 branded channels. Condé is submitting its VR drama “Invisible” in multiple short form categories, “73 Questions” and “Wired’s Autocomplete” in short form variety series, and “Most Expensive S—” as short form non-fiction or reality series.
With its very active Super Deluxe division, Turner is also in the short form game, with “Live Telenovela: El Hogar es Donde está la Casa” in short form original interactive program, and “City Girl” in the race for short form comedy or drama series.
The decision to enter the digital field was clear to Dawn Ostroff, president of Condé Nast Entertainment.
“We knew the marketplace would move,” says Ostroff, who first noticed audience migration while president of entertainment at the CW. “We had an audience that was basically 18-34; they were early adopters. We knew our shows were cultural phenomenons — like “Gossip Girl,” “Veronica Mars” and “Vampire Diaries” — but the ratings weren’t consistent with how popular the shows were. We figured out that they were starting to stream shows illegally.”
That experience led to Condé Nast approaching digital video in a manner allowing it to adapt as the business evolves.
“When you look at who we program for, which is the millennial and Gen Z audience, and look at how much time they spend watching digital video, particularly on mobile, that’s typically short form,” Ostroff says. “That’s where the viewer is headed, and it’s only going to increase over the next few years.”
The burgeoning market also benefits such creators as Tug Coker and Tommy Dewey, who co-created and star in the short-form comedy “Now We’re Talking,” produced with LeBron James and Maverick Carter’s Uninterrupted and Warner Bros. Television’s Blue Ribbon Content for Verizon’s go90 platform.
“The best thing happening right now in short form is producers and studios saying, ‘Go get creative. Make the thing you want to make, and we’ll support that,’ ” Coker says. “That’s what happened with us, and we’ve been really proud of what we’ve made and the audience we’ve been able to reach so far.”
Coker considers short form full of potential for those willing to venture forth.
“One reason Tommy and I decided to steer toward short form was because we believed the format had the best odds for us to make a series, and make it relatively quickly,” Coker says. “We didn’t want the show to lose steam as a pilot script or get stuck in development. We’re lucky. Our producing partners stayed hands-off and we were able to make the series we wanted to make.”
That’s what Henick calls “closing feedback loops.” Instead of linear television’s process — spending a year or more writing, pitching and testing a pilot before getting an initial order — BuzzFeed’s timetable is speedier since most of its creators start as interns or as one of its writing fellows.
“If they have a hunch a show format might work, they can get it up and running and out the door in a couple of weeks, and get data based on it so we can figure out if we want to invest in a whole season or if we want to do a little more testing,” Henick says.
Ostroff see this an “opportunity for our brands, many of which have been around 100 years, to try and protect and solidify their future and make them relevant to a younger audience.” She continues: “We’re going through an entertainment revolution. We’re seeing achievements that are surprising, but not totally unexpected.” She notes that Condé Nast’s digital video business saw profit a year ahead of its goals.
Coker’s efforts have been validated, too. “Tommy and I were lucky enough to be nominated for a Writers Guild Award for the show. We appreciate that the WGAs and the Emmys are acknowledging short form. There’s great quality entertainment taking place and sometimes we need award shows like these to showcase and shine a light on these projects.”